Cliff Deals Again, Phils Cruise 7-1

Cliff Deals Again, Phils Cruise 7-1

Here's your line: eight innings, one run, four hits, two walks, seven strikeouts, and one win. With the victory, Lee gets back above .500 for the first time since April 25, and he retakes the Major League lead in strikeouts by one over teammate Roy Halladay. Not bad.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley had one of his best days at the plate this season, with four RBIs on two hits, including two-run shot in the eighth inning. The Phils go for the series win tomorrow.

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Lost in Joel Embiid's night, Jahlil Okafor returns with new role

Joel Embiid’s regular-season debut headlined the Sixers' home opener Wednesday, a night two years in the making. He wasn’t the only player coming back from injury, though.

Jahlil Okafor took the court in a regular-season game for the first time since Feb. 28. Okafor underwent surgery in March to repair a right meniscus tear. He suffered a setback during training camp and was limited by soreness in that knee.

Okafor subbed in for Embiid with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter. He totaled eight points (4 for 10 from the field), three rebounds, one block, two fouls and three turnovers in 16 minutes, exceeding the Sixers’ initial minute projection of 12 to 14.

Okafor said his knee felt “good” after the game and did not experience discomfort. 

“I enjoyed myself,” Okafor said following the Sixers' 103-97 defeat to the Thunder (see Instant Replay). “Even though we lost, I enjoyed myself. We had a sold-out crowd. We had a hard-fought battle.”

Okafor’s role on Wednesday was different than it had been his rookie season. The former third overall pick is coming off the bench with a minutes restriction, broken down into segments. 

“It’s different for me,” Okafor said of his playing time. “I’m not used to playing in four-minute clumps. You’re more aware of when you’re going to go in. It kind of helps you a little bit. But it’s not something I want to get used to.”

Okafor is adjusted to a new in-game experience as a reserve. Last season, he started 48 of his 53 games and averaged 30.0 minutes. 

“My main thing was being able to come off the bench, which I’m not really used to, and still stay engaged, trying to stay loose,” Okafor said.

Opening night marked new starts for Okafor, as a player and a member of the Sixers (see 10 observations).

“I was taking a flashback to last year when we were 0-15, 0-16 and we so badly wanted to just restart the season,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity.”

Carson Wentz on recent struggles: 'I need to be better'

Carson Wentz on recent struggles: 'I need to be better'

Through the first six games of his NFL career, Carson Wentz has had some magical outings. 

Sunday wasn’t one of them.

While the Eagles won the game and Wentz was able to do enough when it counted, the Vikings' game was the worst of his young career. He completed just 57 percent of his passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. 

The 52.4 passer rating was the lowest he’s had in any game this season — over 20 points lower than his 77.7 against Washington. For the second straight week, he had the worst game of his NFL career. 

So how would Wentz assess his play? 

“I need to be better,” the rookie said. “I think most importantly, I need to play better, I need to be smarter, I need to protect the football. I had three turnovers. Any time you have that many turnovers, as an offense we had four balls on the ground, those things we need to just clean up. 

“I think that, kind of like Doug (Pederson) said, goes back to the fundamentals as well. Things we just have to get in order. But, yeah, I have to play better.“

Wentz's 52.4 passer rating Sunday was just the 15th time ever an Eagles rookie has had a passer rating below 55 (with 20 passing attempts) and the first since Matt Barkley in 2013. Donovan McNabb had three such games during his rookie season in 1999. 

For as magical as Wentz has looked at times this season, he had a bad day Sunday and the Eagles still squeezed out a win. Now, it’s about getting him back to form. 

“I think it’s just going back to refining my footwork primarily is the biggest thing,” Wentz said. “Just being in rhythm and the reads and everything. I don’t think it’s anything that we need to overanalyze or freak out about, but it’s something that you can just kind of focus in on each week.” 

Pederson on Wednesday said this week was about refocusing on fundamentals and mechanics. Pederson specifically pointed to Wentz’s missing a couple throws to his left, where Pederson said Wentz needs to adjust his target line. 

Wentz’s reasoning for those missed throws was much simpler. 

“It’s really nothing you need to fix,” Wentz said. “You just have to make the throw.” 

Aside from the mechanics of throwing left, Pederson also said the team is working with Wentz this week on situational football: knowing down and distance, what defenses are trying to do, personnel. 

Specifically, Pederson said it’s important for Wentz to know which running back is in the backfield because angles change depending on who is back there. 

“Those are all things now that we're trying to bring into his game, and he understands that,” Pederson said. “Now it’s just sort of [that] we have to magnify it just a little bit.”

There’s probably no need to panic. Wentz wasn’t going to have magical games every time he stepped on the field as a rookie. And even in his worst game, there were moments where he showed glimpses of the guy he’s expected to be. 

Despite his ambition, there’s a learning curve for all rookies. And especially for one that has played just six NFL games.  

Even if he doesn’t want to hear it. 

“At this point, I don’t really get caught up in that,” Wentz said. “I’m too busy getting ready for the next week’s opponent. I don’t believe in the rookie excuse or anything like that. I’m all about just winning ballgames and winning them now.”